In 2011, I couldn’t even get a book published so that my daughter could have representation of herself in the world. Some place she could look and say “Hey — that’s me!” if she saw another little Black girl with Afro-puffs like hers, or a wheelchair like hers. In 2011, the literary world felt pretty desolate — not just for a little Black girl like my daughter, but for little Black girls everywhere.
As parents, we (Black folks) were using all the right phrases with our little ones, pouring words into them like “You’re a Queen, little one!” or “Work your Black Girl Magic, honey bee!” Sure, we watched the annual BET special Black Girls Rock, but where were our girls on the pages of the books we read to them at bedtime? Sure, I could read my daughter stories about the women heroes of the Civil Rights movement, and the slave rebellions, but as a collective, Black women and girls are more than Black history. We are Black present and Black future.
So, I was more than just a little bit elated to receive the latest installment in the Goodnight Stories for Rebel Girls franchise, “Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls: 100 Real-Life Tales of Black Girl Magic.”
This book, from cover to cover, is not only a work of art, but it is a work of heart. It is page after page, story after story of some of the most amazing women who ever walked this Earth — from the 16th century to present day. Edited by Lilly Workneh, with the foreword by Cashawn Thompson, who is credited with creating the phrase “Black Girl Magic,” “100 Real-Life Tales of Black Girl Magic” is as inclusive as it is intentional. And with good reason.
A major lack of representation of Black characters in children’s books, particularly characters in “empowering, inspiring positions,” says Workneh, “is why I’ve always dedicated and been purposeful about the stories we tell; in that we are changing that narrative, not only for Black girls and boys, but for everyone to be able to be exposed to the reality that the narratives that are being perpetuated are false. They are stereotypical, and they are not real.” She says the book showcases 100 real-life examples of Black women whose stories should be seen, centered and celebrated, but have not been.
And she’s right.
I found myself learning, snapping my fingers, saying to absolutely no one, ‘YES GIRL!’, and at times, crying, as I read the book. It features well-known women like Naomi Osaka, Kamala D. Harris, and the founders of the Black Lives Matter movement, Alicia Garza, Opal Tometi and Patrisse Cullors.
But it also has stories about the first Black, Muslim, hijab-wearing woman to win an Olympic Gold medal — Ibtijah Muhammad; a Black and disabled model who uses a wheelchair for mobility — Clara Holmes; a transgender activist and one of the many voices of the Stonewall Riots of New York City — Marsha P. Johnson, a.k.a. “Saint Marsha”; and Carolina Contreras, an Afro-Latinx woman who opened the very first all-natural hair salon in the Dominican Republic so that other Afro-Latinx women could “feel beautiful, confident and comfortable with their natural hair.”
From African queens and Haitian rebellion fighters to rap stars and punk rock legends. There are stories about physicists, poets and mechanics. Black Girl Magic is everywhere.
At least that’s how Thompson sees it: “I think it is really important for boys, and then children who are not Black children, to see that women, especially Black women, see how important we are in the grand scheme of things,” she says. Black women “really sit at the intersection of womanhood and Blackness. And don’t nobody really wants to set up shop there, you know, so I think it’s super important that everyone, all the children and their parents and caregivers understand that this is essential reading for them all. Just so they can get a true understanding of the humanity and the power, and the strength, and the resilience and the beauty of Black women — however we show up in the world.”
Yes. However we show up — whether we show up as Ivy League educated attorneys, or beauty supply store workers from around the way. Disabled or able-bodied, whatever faith we follow or if we subscribe to no faith at all — we carry that magic with us. Always, and in all ways.
I couldn’t help but think about how affirming this book is for my daughter, disabled and Black, who rarely sees representation of herself on television or in books she reads. And for my friend’s daughter, who is both Afro-Latin and Afro-Indigenous, and at age 7 is already being teased at school for her dark skin and curly hair. These two little girls, who the world revels in telling them how different they are, now have guideposts to show them that their difference is their magic — their Black Girl magic.
I believe my daughter got the message loud and clear. As we flipped through the pages, looking for stories to read, she made sure we stopped to gaze at Clara Holmes, my daughter pointing out that she, too, was in a wheelchair. And Nandi Bushell, who rocks fierce Afro-puffs, much like my daughter used to (before we gave her a taper fade and dyed it purple). My daughter knows she’s magic because I tell her she is. But you know what they say: Truly, seeing is believing.
This book is so much of what Black girls, and anyone raising Black girls, needs right now. As Workneh so eloquently stated, “the magic resides in our existence.” As a proud Afro-Latin woman raising a feisty, kindhearted, disabled, smart-as-a-whip Afro-Latin girl, I can’t help but agree.
Adiba Nelson is the author of the forthcoming memoir “Ain’t That a Mother,” (Blackstone Publishing, spring 2022), an award-winning children’s book author and the subject of the Emmy Award-winning documentary “The Full Nelson.” In addition to writing, she also travels the country speaking about the importance of DEIA from a disability perspective.
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